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The First Communion, or First Holy Communion, is a Catholic Church ceremony. It is the colloquial name for a person's first reception of the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. Catholics believe this event to be very important, as the Eucharist is one of the central focuses of the Catholic Church. Lutherans traditionally practice First Communion.
First Communion is not celebrated in the Eastern Orthodox Churches, the Oriental Orthodox Churches or the Assyrian Church of the East which practice infant communion. Some Anglicans allow infant communion (also called "paedo-communion"), while others require the previous reception of confirmation, usually during the teenage years.
Celebration of this religious ceremony is typically less elaborate in many Protestant churches. Roman Catholics and some Protestant denominations, including Lutherans and some Anglicans, believe Christ is truly present in the Eucharist, although, for non-Catholics, not as transubstantiation. Other denominations have varying understandings, ranging from the Eucharist being a "symbolic" meal to a meal of "remembering" Christ's last supper. First Communion in Roman Catholic churches typically takes place at age seven or eight, depending on the country.
First Communion is traditionally an important religious ceremony for Catholic families. Also, among those raised Catholic, Holy Communion is the third sacrament received from the seven sacraments. This is traditionally practised by many Roman Catholic families, including Spanish, Italians, Latin Americans, Irish, Hungarian and Polish.
Traditions surrounding First Communion usually include large family gatherings and parties to celebrate the event and special clothing is usually worn. The clothing is often white to symbolize purity. Girls often wear fancy dresses and a veil attached to a wreath of flowers or hair ornament. In other communities, girls commonly wear dresses passed down to them from sisters or mothers, or even simply their school uniforms plus the veil and/or wreath.
In many Latin America countries, boys wear military-style dress uniforms with gold braid aiguilettes. In Switzerland and Luxembourg, both boys and girls wear plain white robes with brown wooden crosses around their necks.
Many families have formal professional photographs taken in addition to candid snapshots in order to commemorate the event. Some churches arrange for a professional photographer after the ceremony.
The social mission of First Communion is a rite of passage leading to confirmation. During the communist era, dominant societies initiation into the pioneer movement in communist countries that had large Catholic populations was an overt attempt to supplant the Catholic ritual (e.g., the Union of Pioneers of Yugoslavia). In all cases, a child at the age of seven to ten is initiated as a member of a group within which the individuals share certain values and culture.
Counterparts in other religions
- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church): Latter-day Saint children are baptized at the age eight, which is considered the age of accountability, as directed in Doctrine and Covenants 68:27, and are confirmed shortly afterward. It is in many ways culturally and spiritually equivalent to a First Communion ceremony. (Note: Technically only baptized members need to partake of the sacrament (i.e. the Communion), but in practice young children and new converts who have not yet been baptized often partake of the sacrament along with the rest of the congregation. As such there is no "First Communion" among Latter-day Saints.)
- Quam singulari
- A Letter from the Vatican: First Penance, First Communion
- Communion of Boys
- CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Communion of Children
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